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Signs of Shame and What They Feel Like for an Autistic Person

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When you feel shame do you know what the signs are? If you don’t then today I am going to tell you — plus how to recover from shame and guilt, based on my own experience. Now, let’s get started.

Some people might experience different emotions when they are feeling shame about something. They might experience emotions like:

The Whole World Is Resting On Their Shoulders: They might feel like the whole world is on their shoulders and they have to worry about the whole world. Whatever happens, they are responsible for everyone. Trust me, I felt like that before and it’s not a good feeling.

Something Is Weighing Them Down: Maybe something might metaphorically weigh them down like a stack of bricks on their chest or perhaps an elephant. Just maybe a big pair of dumbbells.

The Invisible Truce Flag: Maybe that person is holding up an invisible truce flag and telling the world they have given up. I know I was waving one of those when my spring semester in college became impossible.

Leave Me Alone Look: Have you ever seen someone who had that look on their face that basically says leave me alone or else? Maybe it came with an eye roll as well. That person may not want to talk to anyone or be around people. Maybe they just want to be in a quiet place where no one can find them.

The Unstoppable Negative Self-Talk: I have to admit I have been guilty of doing this. It’s easy to beat ourselves up because we are our own critics. It’s bad enough that someone else might think bad about us, so don’t beat yourself up.

If you find someone in one of these moods, they might bring up their past or what they regret, or stuff that they can’t do in life.

The Loss of Motivation: Sometimes we all lose motivation. Some people might not want to do anything and just lie around or lie in bed all day. They may feel a loss of interest in their job, reading books, video games, hanging out with friends and family.

Many things can cause shame, but here are some good examples. Something that you regret in the past like fights with friends and family or extended family members. Secrets that you might be hiding from everyone around you. Maybe you broke something and you cleaned it up before someone noticed it.

You told a lot of little white lies because you don’t hurt someone’s feelings and you feel bad about it. Maybe you told a lie in school to act cool so no one judged you for who you are.

What’s the different between shame and guilt? According to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, “Guilt is often experienced when we ask against our values. Shame, on the other hand, is a deeply-held belief about our unworthiness as a person.”

How to Recover From Shame and Guilt?

  • Forgive yourself — tell yourself you are human and you make mistakes
  • Tell yourself that you are not like the person you were years ago
  • Apologize to everyone who was affected — some people who understand how you’ve grown will forgive you, however some might still hold grudges
  • Listen to a motivational speaker on a podcast or a Ted Talk video
  • Talk to a licensed therapist — psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Write in a journal — gratitude, bullet or a feeling journal.
  • Listen to music — upbeat and rock n roll music may help
  • Martial Arts have a lot of benefits — my instructors keep me motivated, their voices in my head tell me to give everything 110% and nothing less. The punching bags are a great way to let out all my feelings on the mat

Autism and Shame Can Go Hand-in-Hand

I would be lying if I said that I have never felt shame as an autistic person. I have felt shame when I had meltdowns in elementary school through middle school. During those years I was so hard on myself because I was told this wasn’t the “right” way to behave.

Looking back at those shameful years of me acting out, I believe I was trying to get people to pay attention to me. Not the self-centered kind of attention, but the attention of my principals who didn’t think bullying existed in the school. At least my seventh grade teacher who was also my eighth grade teacher believed me. My guidance counselor believed me as well.

It has taken me many years to forgive myself for the way I acted out. The one thing that helped me to get over feeling shame was apologizing to those who were affected by my meltdowns around me. Some people forgave me, while others didn’t want anything to do with me. In their eyes, I am still that person whl gave them a hard years ago. But at least I tried to mend the damage.

What Does Shame Look Like With Autism?

Shame can look different in everyone, even those who have autism. My signs of shame looked like:

  • Head down to the ground
  • Lost for words
  • Worried that everyone is mad at me
  • Replaying what happened in my brain multiple times
  • Scared of the consequences
  • Afraid I am going to get yelled at
  • Heart beating fast
  • Thoughts racing in my head
  • I start apologizing over and over again until people get tired of me saying it
  • Shame is a very nasty feeling and I hate when I feel that way

Everyone has felt shame before and it’s not a good feeling to have. It can hurt your mental and emotional health. As well as hurt the relationships with friends and family members around you. When we start getting these feelings, it’s OK to ask for help by going to see a licensed therapist or take karate classes. We just can’t let it beat us so we continue to live our lives and enjoy life.

Photo by Dwayne Legrand on Unsplash

Originally published: January 5, 2021
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